Chinese Whispers by John Ashbery

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Chinese Whispers is the British name of a game called Telephone in America. According to a certain "Professor Hoffmann" in his book Drawing Room Amusements (1879), "the participants are arranged in a circle, and the first player whispers a story or message to the next player, and so on round the circle. The original story is then compared with the final version, which has often changed beyond recognition."

"Chinese Whispers" is also the superb title poem in this new collection of sixty-three poems by John Ashbery. In these works, as perhaps in much poetry, the verbal nucleus that is the original incitement toward a poem undergoes twists and modulations before arriving at its final form. The changes are caused not by careless listening to the speech of others, but by endlessly proliferating trains of ideas that a single word or phrase ignites in the poet's mind. These alter the face of the poem even as they contribute to it and become part of its fabric. As in a sea change the poem has been transformed, often into "something rich and strange," but the strangeness is that of thought being opened up, like a geode, to reveal unexpected facets of meaning.

John Ashbery has been called "America's greatest living poet" by Harold Bloom. Now in his seventy-fifth year, he continues to write poetry that is dazzlingly inventive and original.

About John Ashbery

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John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927 and educated at Harvard and Columbia. He is Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College and lives in New York City and Hudson, New York.
Published October 22, 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 112 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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Ashbery's most recent style—equal parts cracked drawing room dialogue, 4-H Americana, withering sarcasm and sleeve-worn pathos—has been perfected over five or so books and adapted b

Aug 19 2002 | Read Full Review of Chinese Whispers: Poems

The Guardian

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Eventually, "the rumours grew more fanciful than the real thing: / I hear they are encrusted with tangles of briar rose, / so dense / not even a prince seeking the Sleeping Beauty could get inside.

Feb 08 2003 | Read Full Review of Chinese Whispers: Poems

Publishers Weekly

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The surprise, in poem after poem, is that high and low comedy and offhanded delivery can read like simultaneous expressions of pain and regeneration—and that they do not dull after multiple permutations are spun out: "The beginning of the middle is like that./ Looking back it was all valleys, shr...

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